Offshore Drilling, UEFA Champions League: Paris Saint-Germain 2, at Valencia 1

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It’s rare that you see the word “escaped” applied to a 2-1 road victory, but by the end of Paris Saint-Garmain’s Tuesday trip to Valencia’s Mestalla, the Parisians would be right to feel like the final whistle cam at just the right moment. A late Adil Rami goal had halved their lead before a stunning late red card for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. PSG were left to see out the match’s final moments packed into their own end before being awarded a valuable road victory, 2-1.

The win was the result of two isolated moments in a match that was otherwise controlled by Los Che. In the 10th minute, a one-two between Ezequiel Lavezzi and fellow Argentine Javier Pastore allowed the duo to crack the left side of Valencia’s defense, putting the Parisians up 1-0. Just before halftime, Pastore’s quick shot off a Lucas Moura cross beat Vicente Guaita between the legs, the goalkeeper’s left foot the last touch on what would prove the game-winning goal.

That early edge, along with stalwart defensive play from PSG’s midfield, allowed the visitors to give Valencia control of the game, something that nearly proved fruitless. Then a late foul from substitute Sylvain Armand allowed Tino Costa to drop a 90th minute restart behind the Parisian line. An unmarked Adil Rami gave Valencia their hope-restoring goal.

But the story coming out of today’s match will the Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s red card. After a good if unspectacular game, Ibrahimovic was dismissed after a stoppage time challenge on Andres Guardado saw the Swede go over the top of the ball and stomp on his opponent’s right foot. He’ll miss the return leg in Paris.

(MORE OFFSHORE: Juventus three up on Celtic.)

Man of the Match: PSG’s defensive effort was the difference in this match, and that effort was led by midfielder Blaise Matuidi, one of the team’s two best players this season. Because he exists in a world defined by Ibrahimovic, the French international doesn’t get the attention he deserves, but on Tuesday people saw why the 25-year-old has become crucial to his team’s success.

At the tip if a defense tasked with disrupting a team that held 65 percent of the game’s possession, Matuidi had a game-high five interceptions. His presence in the middle (along with Marco Veratti’s) helped take Ever Banega out of the match, while his forays forward to put pressure on Costa contributed to some of the Argentine’s early struggles.

Threesome of Knowledge: What We Learned

PSG is ready to compete for Champions League – Nobody’s going to confuse Valencia for title contenders, but getting results on the road in Champions League — particularly at this point in the competition — is difficult. Some teams don’t even try to win road matches, content to take stalemates into their home legs.

Not so for PSG. They scored early, took advantage of a breakdown before halftime, and despite a late wobble, took a win and two away goals out of Spain. In the process, they dispelled the notion that the group’s lack of Champions League experience would be a hinderance.

Sure, the team has individuals who’ve played in Champions League. Ibrahimovic is in this competition every year, and Thiago Silva came from Milan. But as a collective, this team has never tried to navigate these waters before.

One year after Borussia Dortmund, Lille, and Manchester City fell flat in Champions League, it was reasonable to ask whether PSG’s uptake would be as slow. Now, we can disregard that notion.

Ancelotti’s got his midfield working – Matuidi wasn’t the only PSG midfielder putting forth an effort. Marco Veratti has come a long way since the beginning of the season, his game-high seven tackles showing he no longer needs to be protected in the middle. Out wide, Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore — two players known for their work in other facets of the game — proved they can fulfill wide midfielders’ responsibilities in a 4-4-2.

Six months ago, none of those names projected as players who could provide this kind of defensive. A team with Valencia’s skill would have exploited them. But Carlo Ancelotti brought something new out of the trio. As a result, PSG looks a good bet to go through.

Tino Costa as a metaphor for the match – In the first half, when the game was in doubt, Valencia couldn’t take advantage of the possession they were given. They couldn’t even mount any meaningful chances on Salvatore Sirigu. PSG looked set to deflect Valencia’s attacks through full time and take a cleansheet back to Paris.

A big part of that was Tino Costa. The Valencia regista was off early on, spraying balls across the field that were more speculative than surgical. His short passing was being disrupted by Matuidi. Costa was not only undermining Valencia attacks, he was giving PSG opportunities to counter.

As Costa came into the match, Valencia became more effective. Near the 30 minute-mark, when the Argentine started improving, Valencia was finally able to threaten down the flanks. As Valencia drew more fouls, they were able to bring Costa’s dead ball service into play, service which eventually let to Los Che’s only goal.

With midfield partner Daniel Parejo a non-factor through most of the day’s match, Valencia’s output ended up reflecting what Costa was able to accomplish. When Costa came on late, his team was able to score. But until that point, they couldn’t crack PSG’s defense.

Packaged for takeaway

  • We’ll try to post Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s controversial tackle later. Suffice to say, not all of you will agree with Paolo Tagliabento’s decision.
  • (MORE: Did Ibrahimovic deserve his red card?)

  • Valencia originally set up in a 4-2-3-1 but switched at halftime, going to a 4-4-2 when Nelson Valdez and Sergio Canales came on for Banega and Jonas. The change had little effect.
  • PSG became the first French team to beat Valencia since 1980.
  • Thiagos Silva and Motta both missed today’s match, though it’s unclear how much either would have mattered. PSG’s defense was pretty well shielded, while Motta’s unlikely to have performed better than either starting central midfielder.
  • Mexican international Andres Guardado got another start at left back for Valencia, a position that’s become more common for him as his team has battled fitness concerns over the last month. It would be scary if Mexico started using the veteran in this role, a switch that would allow Chepo de la Torre to get yet another attacking threat on the field.

     

  • Last summer he was one of the best right backs at Euro 2012, but each time you watch Joao Perriera you’re reminded: The Portuguese international is a truly under-appreciated player. Because he lacks the athleticism we’ve come to look for in fullbacks, he doesn’t get brought up in many “Best of” conversations. Yet as he showed on Tuesday, there’s nothing he can’t do well.
  • Had his ninth minute shot gone in, Lucas Moura would have been clear Man of the Match. That early blast from well outside the box only rattled Vicente Guaita’s goal, but it was enough to elicit some gasps from the Valencia crowd. His work just before halftime also created Pastore’s goal.
  • No, David Beckham didn’t play.

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

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MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.

Running Away With It

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Christian Pulisic scored and played a part in three other goals as the United States rained goals down on Honduras in a 6-0 win at Avaya Stadium in San Jose early Saturday morning.

Clint Dempsey scored two goals, and Michael Bradley and Sebastian Lletget also scored as the U.S. moved into fourth place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Their next match is Tuesday in Panama.

[ MORE: Player ratings | Three things ]

The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes got off to a flying start.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal. Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

The Yanks didn’t stop, and Lletget drew a yellow card when he beat Ever Alvarado down the right flank and forced a take down from the Honduran defender.

Alberth Elis slipped John Brooks’ mark, and the Houston Dynamo man turned to fire on goal. Tim Howard was well positioned to scoop it up.

Lletget turned out to be injured by the Alvarado foul, and Bruce Arena turned to Alejandro Bedoya in the 17th minute.

Geoff Cameron was given a yellow card in the 25th minute for a foul on Roger Espinoza. That gave a free kick to Honduras from 30 yards out, and Romell Quioto fired right at Tim Howard.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

Honduras then took a bigger hit: the loss of star attacker Romell Quioto (Houston Dynamo) to an apparent shoulder injury.

Brooks bailed out an out-of-position Gonzalez just before halftime to keep the lead 3-0.

The Yanks needed 15 seconds to make it 4-0, with Dempsey winning a 50-50 tussle and finding Altidore for a flick to Pulisic. He netted his fourth USMNT goal. He’s 18.

Pulisic then won a free kick 25 yards out from goal by embellishing a foul, and Dempsey’s free kick tricked Escober. 6-0. For real.

A scary moment late as a dazed and wobbly John Brooks was forced off despite no apparent injury. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks (Ream, 70′), Cameron (Zusi, 58′); Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′, 49′, 54′), Pulisic (46′)

 

Player ratings from USMNT’s pounding of Honduras

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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Battered. Throttled. Eviscerated.

Pick your verb of dominance, the United States likely fit it well in a 6-0 destruction of Honduras at Avaya Stadium in San Jose.

[ MORE: Recap + video | Three things ]

The win boosts the U.S. in World Cup qualifying after their 0-2 start, but how did the individuals fare? Obviously well.

Starting XI

Tim Howard — 7 — The team just feels in a safer place with the veteran back there. If the U.S. goes to the 2018 World Cup, Howard remains their No. 1 (and there probably never should have been a question. Sorry Brad).

Jorge Villafana — 7 — Tidy passing and a low-risk game from the Santos Laguna man.

John Brooks (Off 70′) — 7 — An early error before recovering to be his usual free-clearing, athletic self. Scary injury took him out late, as he looked dazed. Fox’s Jenny Taft said he was dehydrated, which is a relief.

Omar Gonzalez — 5  — He wasn’t bad, but Gonzalez is still a positional question mark. Bailed out a couple times by Brooks.

Geoff Cameron (Off 59′) — 6 — Out of position and a bit hobbled, he wasn’t at his best.

Michael Bradley — 7 — One of his better USMNT games in a long time.

Sebastian Lletget (Off 17′) — 8 — Scored, then got hurt on a roasting run down the right.

Darlington Nagbe — 6 — One or two electric moments in the first half, but overall a quiet enough night for the Timbers man.

Christian Pulisic — 9 — Hard to not to hand the kid a 10. He’s quite frankly the most exciting American talent in the history of the program.

Clint Dempsey — 10 — Along with Howard, the sort of player you knew would make sure this game ended with three points. The fact that he nabbed three goals, too, is just a bonus.

Jozy Altidore — 7  — Pretty darn good night holding up the ball, and passed as well as ever, but did he drop a bit too deep too often? The answer is probably, “Who cares? They won 6-0, dude.”

Subs

Alejandro Bedoya (On 18′)  — 6 — Typical high energy, space eating job in the middle of the park from the Union man.

Graham Zusi (On 58′)  — 6 — Good late clearance preserved the shutout.

Tim Ream (On 70′)  — 6 — Interesting to note that Arena went to him over Walker Zimmerman or Matt Besler.

Three things to take away from USMNT 6-0 Honduras

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The United States men’s national team pulled a Leicester City.

[ MORE: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

That’s a joke with truth wrapped around it, because the Yanks have had plenty of time and even a pair of friendlies to respond from the firing of Jurgen Klinsmann.

But in their first serious match without their old coach, the U.S. looked a team renewed and unleashed. Now the Americans may find themselves back in an automatic World Cup qualifying spot with a win on Tuesday in Panama.

Things change.

Vindicated

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and all of the USMNT players waited months and months to get the chance to answer their critics following a pair of embarrassing losses to open the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Sure, having Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron, and Tim Howard back helped a whole lot, and the seasoning Christian Pulisic is getting at Borussia Dortmund is unquestionably good for an 18-year-old.

But there’s little doubt Michael Bradley and Co. were fired up to silence their critics. Whether they admit it or not, this is a bunch that was stung by those who said they failed their old coach.

Most expected the U.S. to get a point or better against Honduras, but to do it the way they did is an unexpected bonus. A win in Panama on Tuesday would boost them into the Top Three.

And don’t worry, the old boss was pleased for his former charges.


The future is now…

I Tweeted the following after a late second half pass from Pulisic, and there was little disagreement.

Pulisic won’t be credited with an assist for his shot which rebounded to Sebastian Lletget for the opener, but he will walk away with his fourth international goal and two proper assists.

One was an absurd scoop to Clint Dempsey’s chest, and the other was a long avenue that shouldn’t have existed. Still, Pulisic found that street and provided an absolutely dynamic force all over the park.

There have been U.S. teens at big European clubs, and U.S. teens who’ve made impacts on the national team, but never both at the same time and never both at this level. Pulisic is for real, and finding his ceiling is an adventure we’re all undertaking with great enjoyment.


…But the legends sure helped

Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will go down as two of the most important players in United States men’s national team history.

Actually, they may be duking it out for Nos. 1 and 2 when it’s all said and done.

Dempsey’s hat trick was his career in a nutshell. The first saw him body off a defender while collecting a Pulisic pass off his chest, then lashing a shot with power despite said defender dragging him down.

The second was a burst of speed to run onto Pulisic’s through ball and classic calm in the face of an onrushing keeper, holding onto the ball before sliding it home from an acute angle.

The third was this free kick. A bit aided by goalkeeper Donis Escober, but such is life.

And don’t sleep on Howard’s early performance as Honduras tried to find some sort of foothold in the match. Always well-positioned, the team just feels safer with the Colorado Rapids man between the sticks.